Being a sociable sort, with fantastic social skills, I’ve never had a problem facing questions. I can say that I’m an expert at telling staff about the sandwich filling that I’d like, I deal with pleas for directions like an experienced tour guide and I can proffer opinions at the drop of a hat, I can even do that during fleeting media appearances!!!!! I can say all this safe in the knowledge that I’m not blowing my own trumpet too hard.
“So who were your club playing today?” is a question that doesn’t appear to present many problems. My fantastic social skills pointed to this idea because they have led to meeting very many pleasant football fans. I’ve certainly never had any qualms about asking questions like that because I’ve been subjected to questions of this nature many times, in fact someone once said that when it comes to football I can hold my own with the best of them. I took this phrase to mean that I appear to know what I’m talking about.
My experiences have always led me to suspect that there was a fraternity of football fandom. I saw it in the way people looked, in the way they talked to each other, in the way the glared at me but I didn’t have the confidence to use my fantastic, albeit embryonic, social skills to back up my suspicions. Since I gained the confidence to use my fantastic social skills I have been able to see the “Brotherhood of Football Fans” with my own eyes. I finally saw the common act that linked us all; visiting football grounds. I finally felt part of the “Brotherhood”. For last few years I’ve travelled to away matches feeling protected by this idea.
I never saw barriers to conversation or fraternisation, I only saw the “Brotherhood”. At the same time other fans, because they’re in the “Brotherhood”, knew instinctively that I didn’t want to debate the obvious problems of Conservative economic stewardship, I just wanted a pleasant conversation to pass the time.
I saw nothing to dissuade me that I was part of the “Brotherhood”. For example, a few years ago I was on a train to the Welsh Cup final in Llanelli via Crewe. Due to my position as Bangor City’s merchandise supremo I was accompanied by large bag of merchandise and a gross of blue and white chequered flags. Two people saw me, I saw them. We saw that we had that common football fan look. Thanks to our mutual connection I soon found out that they were both Tranmere fans, I even found out that one of them went to matches with the lead singer from Half Man Half Biscuit.
This is just one boring example, over the years I’ve conversed with fans of Cardiff, Merthyr, Spurs, Chester, Swindon, Swansea, Wrexham, Shrewsbury, Port Talbot, Llanelli, Stoke City, Celtic, Motherwell, Villa, Arsenal, Scotland, Norwich, Sheffield Wednesday, Herrenveen and Rapid Vienna. It wasn’t difficult to form conversations, we all had that a bond.
In the last few weeks I’ve started to think that I may have been living under misapprehensions. I suppose this is the trouble when assumptions are made. I have assumed that when people are wearing a football scarf / replica shirt / limited edition polo shirt on public transport they were advertising their allegiances. I thought this meant they were practically begging for a conversation. I rationalised the situation, why would they wear such ostentatious symbols of identification if they didn’t wanted to be disturbed from their copy of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt?
The first event that shook me happened about three weeks ago, when my new wife and I were on our esoteric honeymoon in York…….
We happened to be staying around the corner from Bootham Crescent so I decided to go and have a look. My wife had a crush on York City’s Jamie Reed when he was a Bangor City player so my visit would also allow me to see if I could pick up a Jamie Reed fridge magnet as a late wedding present, result!
I got to Bootham Crescent to find a delightful traditional football ground with a club shop that was shut, alas no fridge magnet! There was a fans’ coach going to Alfreton for an Easter Monday match outside the main gates. I saw one bloke and strode up to him;
Me; “How’s Jamie Reed doing?”
The man looked a little worried so I qualified the question ;
“Don’t worry I’m a Bangor fan I was just wondering!!!!!”
Him; “Well we all like him because he scores when he plays, but the manager doesn’t seem to like him”
I turned to ask another question but the words had evaporated from my mouth, the bloke had turned away from me. I watched him walk up the steps of the coach. I was dumbfounded.
I put the stilted conversation down to the tangible anti-Welsh prejudice of 21st century Britain so I didn’t fret. It was nothing, nothing, it was nothing ok!! I laughed it off as I walked back to my hotel. I continued laughing in off in the shower, in the Jorvik centre, on the city walls, in the York Castle Museum, I carrying laughed it off over our evening meal in the Italian restaurant with the pushy owner. It was nothing, nothing, I wasn’t going to let this ruin my honeymoon, I mean the guy was bald what does his opinion matter anyway. How dare he metaphorically cast aspirations upon my fantastic social skills!!!!!!
Then the events of last Saturday unfurled, then I couldn’t laugh things off any longer…..
At around about 18:10 last Saturday I was on a train travelling between Preston and Warrington, I went to Deepdale, don’t ask!!, and I noticed that the bloke across the aisle from me wore a green and black scarf. I surmised that he had to be a Plymouth fan. Two pieces of evidence backed up my summation; he also wore a green tie with black stripes, or was it a black tie with green stripes?, and earlier in the day I’d noticed a married couple in retro Plymouth shirts on a Warrington Bank Quay platform.
When I noticed that he was holding the Guardian I thought I was on an easy wicket for a football conversation. I tried to think of a safe question to get the ball rolling – even though we’re all brethren you never want to look uncool / clueless when asking questions. Knowing that the train had stopped in Carlisle before it stopped in Preston I decided this question would do;
Me; “So did Plymouth play Carlisle today?”
Him; “No we played Morecambe…………….OKAY!!”
The smug firmness of his reply, the look of smug steadfastness upon his face, and most importantly, the smug elongated gap between the last two words he uttered told me that any hopes of a conversation were forlorn. The irritatingly “liberal” yet judgemental journalists writing for the Guardian’s magazine were obviously far more interesting than me. I was a broken man.
I refuse to believe that the “Brotherhood” contains people who are so unwilling to have simple conversations they actually want to look smug about their lack of fantastic social skills. This can only mean one thing; my fantastic social skills aren’t quite as fantastic as I thought they were. I’ve heard that looking through train windows in mute appreciation is the new rock ‘n’ roll so I’m ok with this.
In case you’re interested a slightly abridged version of this post appeared on the wonderful Twohundredpercent site earlier today.